If early games are the first waypoint on a season long journey, Idaho got just enough of a test from George Fox Monday in Memorial Gym to get some indication it is headed in the right direction.
The Vandals’ first win of the year, 101-62 over the Bruins, follows an opening-game road loss to Nevada.
The game itself was essentially over by halftime, with Idaho enjoying a 59-35 lead. The only question remaining was whether the Vandals would score 100 points. They did. Nate Sherwood put up a shot in the lane and hit a free throw with 13 seconds remaining to set the 101-62 final score. These were among his career-high 28-points. He also led the Vandals with 13 rebounds.
Among things Idaho learned against the outmanned Bruins is nobody is likely to have any more success staying with Victor Sanders as a senior than in his previous seasons as a Vandal. Sanders led Idaho with 29 points on eight of 12 shooting from the floor, including six of seven three pointers. He also hit seven of nine free throws.
Sherwood and Brayon Blake, who grabbed 10 rebounds and scored a dozen points, also gave the Vandals a stout presence inside against the smaller Bruins. Blake, at one point, came off a screen, took a high post pass from Sherwood and threw down a dunk reminiscent of the days when Gus Johnson was force feeding the rims in Idaho’s old barn of a gym in the 1960s.
Maybe playing in Memorial Gym even had the Vandals hearkening back to the movie Hoosiers. Early in the second half, they ran the picket fence, with Sanders popping up over a screen of three teammates at the top of the key. He made a 3-pointer, which would have counted for two points in the movie.
Idaho did sputter a bit early. With George Fox trailing, 7-0, Mason Green-Richards went on a solo mission to shoot the Bruins back into the game. He drained four 3-pointers to bring the Bruins within a point, 13-12, before he finally missed. He finished with 15 points in the first half. Vandals coach Don Verlin said he challenged Sanders at halftime to step up his defense on Green-Richards, who scored only six points after the break. He did lead the Bruins with 21.
Ryan Lacey contributed for the Bruins when he was fouled by Blake on a three-point attempt and drained all three free throws to give George Fox the lead, 15-13. The Bruins got up by as much as five points, 22-17, before Idaho began to reel them in.
After their early success, as the half wore on, George Fox could neither hit over Idaho’s zone nor penetrate it or the man-to-man the Vandals threw at the Bruins. Verlin said he wanted to see the zone against perimeter shooters but acknowledged the man-to-man was the more effective defense.
Idaho drew even at 22 apiece on on Chad Sherwood’s three pointer. Scott Blakney was fouled and converted the free throws to put Idaho back in front for good.
The second half was all about operating efficiently for the Vandals.
“This had nothing to do with who we were playing. We wanted to try to play to the standards we set for ourselves,” Sanders said.
Sherwood said he was so locked in he did not realize his final points put the Vandals over 100.
Asked which was the more impressive number 101 or 62, he replied without hesitation, “defense wins championships.”